Art Basel Hong Kong supports art community amid ongoing pandemic

Event organisers team up with Fine Art Asia to support 22 local galleries, in hope of reigniting in-person arts events in Hong Kong.

Art Basel festival deTour MAIN
Designers gather for a group photo at the ongoing design festival deTour, which features an online initiative as well as a physical exhibition. Photo Credit: Art Basel Hong Kong

Following the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong, organisers of the annual art fair, which usually attracts tens of thousands of visitors, recently hosted a mini art event (26-30 November) in support of the local arts community.

Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel was held during the Fine Art Asia 2020 show at HKCEC, showcasing 22 galleries with exhibition spaces in Hong Kong.

Adeline Ooi, Art Basel Asia director said in a press statement: “Our collaboration with Fine Art Asia is a wonderful opportunity for the Hong Kong cultural community to come together and celebrate the creative spirit of the city. Art Basel is dedicated to supporting the region and we are delighted that we are able to provide a physical platform for galleries and their artists in what has been a challenging year."

“Hong Kong Spotlight is a special occasion for our Hong Kong exhibitors to present their premier programme and an opportunity for the art community to exchange ideas. I am excited to see a great line-up of exhibitors for the project and look forward to seeing artists’ works in person again”, said Angelle Siyang-Le, project lead on Hong Kong Spotlight and regional head of gallery relations Asia, Art Basel.

Ben Brown Fine Arts, a London-born gallery with an exhibition space in Hong Kong, showcased works by José Parlá and Gerhard Richter at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. “The art world is quite resilient to economic pressure. With a plethora of creatives, new initiatives for innovation are always being proposed to bring the audience closer to the art,” director Amanda Hon told M&C Asia. "The gallery has remained open and constantly held exhibitions throughout the year”.

Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 will be postponed to May, instead of its usual March slot, so the current exhibition will act as a crucial bridge between exhibitors and viewers.

Amid Hong Kong’s recent upsurge in daily Covid-19 cases, the city has implemented further social distancing measures, continuation of mandatory mask wearing and limited gatherings of up to four people.

Return of the arts

Art Basel Curatorial Team of deTour 2020
Curatorial Team of deTour 2020, including William To, executive director of PMQ (far right).

Meanwhile, other art events and exhibitions will proceed at a smaller scale, including the annual design festival deTour.

Held in PMQ, deTour kicked off on 27 November and will run until 6 December. The festival features an online initiative as well as a physical exhibition. “I think Hong Kong's art scene is still holding up strong as bank interests are fairly low, which means it's better to collect art or invest into stock or properties”, Shin Wong, the festival’s curator-at-large told M&C Asia. “Artists and Galleries are taking things slowly, repositioning themselves in the market, which also means it is a great chance to find their real collectors."

In some cases, galleries have moved to digital platforms to showcase artwork online. When Art Basel Hong Kong was cancelled in March, it launched online viewing rooms to allow exhibitors to present works intended for the cancelled show.

“The Hong Kong local audience is a rich group of art appreciators that we constantly need to get to know," she adds. "The Spotlight fair has brought in new people to our gallery and new collectors who have bought artwork."

Other ways of coping with the changes include scaling down. “Curating small, high-quality exhibitions is obviously the right thing to do, as social distancing is still very important”, said Wong.

“Many initiatives are taking place, in-person and online”, said Katie de Tilly, founder of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery and exhibitor at Hong Kong Spotlight. She says such events act as a critical part of the city’s cultural engagements and demonstrate community support.

As the art market continues to evolve, galleries are adapting accordingly. “Acquiring art through an online platform is definitely what buyers are willing to do these days, hence investing and upgrading one's website is a must for all galleries and artists,” Wong added.

“Finding ways to engage audiences through virtual showrooms has also become a new norm. I think the navigation and web experience will change one's perspective towards the arts."